WASHINGTON -- After 480 regular season and playoff games in the minor leagues, the NHL dream of Erik Burgdoerfer becomes a reality tonight in Verizon Center. Six days shy of his 28th birthday, Burgdoerfer joins Justin Falk on the Buffalo Sabres' third defense pair for their game against the Washington Capitals.
Burgdoerfer got the word Sunday from Rochester coach Dan Lambert, noting that the call "was a little emotional but it was great." He played in all but one of the Sabres' preseason games, giving coach Dan Bylsma more than enough confidence to call on him in the wake of Buffalo's injury crisis on the blueline.
"It certainly has been a long time coming so I was thrilled to get the call," Burgdoerfer said after the Sabres' optional morning skate. "There were definitely certain points in my career I thought this would never happen. You've just got to believe in yourself, work hard and I couldn't be happier with the result."
His preseason in Buffalo was a key to getting to this point but Burgdoerfer said his run to the Calder Cup finals in June with Washington's Hershey affiliate set the stage for this year. The Bears were swept in the series by Lake Erie.
"That was huge," he said. "Any time you can be on a team that's winning, even though we came up a little short in the Calder Cup final, any one on a team like that gets a boost for the next season. Whether it's with the same time or moving on. There's nothing like winning to propel people's careers."
The Sabres will have Rasmus Ristolainen with Jake McCabe on their top defense pair, while Cody Franson staying with junior callup Brendan Guhle after that pair was joined Saturday against Boston for Guhle's NHL debut. Burgdoerfer will play with Falk.
"I told him it's your first NHL game but you've played with all these guys before and you should be comfortable with how we play," Bylsma said. "There's a little more rapport and camaraderie between them now because they played in Rochester.
"A lot of what we've seen with Taylor Fedun I would say about Erik. He's a guy that proved he can play at the NHL level in preseason. We played with very similar lineups to what we've played with in the season and he was a good, steady defender. He competed hard and was able to do it against NHL players."
Burgdoerfer said he expected several family members to make the drive here, either from the family home on Long Island or perhaps even his Buffalo connections. His mother, Jane, is a Western New York native and he has aunts, uncles and cousins in Amherst, Orchard Park and Clarence.
"Belief in myself, support of my family, friends and people in hockey who believed in me," he said about his quest. "The Sabres gave me an excellent opportunity in preseason to show I can play at this level and thankfully I ran with it. Any team would be special to play against but it's close enough to home that my family is able to come so that will really make it special."
Burgdoerfer's stay might be short. Bylsma said Dmitry Kulikov isn't likely to play Tuesday against Edmonton but is a possibility for the rematch with the Capitals at home on Friday. The coach also said Fedun had rib X-rays that were negative and is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.